Monday, July 16, 2012
A US ship has fired on a boat off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), US officials say.
The USNS Rappahannock fired on a vessel after it ignored warnings and rapidly approached the ship, the US Navy says.
There is no confirmation of casualties although a UAE official said an Indian fisherman had been killed and three more wounded.
The US has increased its presence in the Gulf after Iran renewed threats to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
In a statement, the US Navy in Bahrain said that a security team on board the refuelling ship fired on a small motor boat after it disregarded warnings and "rapidly approached" the US ship off the coast of Jebel Ali, near Dubai, UAE.
"In accordance with navy force protection procedures, the sailors... used a series of non-lethal, preplanned responses to warn the vessel before resorting to lethal force," the statement said.
"The US crew repeatedly attempted to warn the vessel's operators to turn away from their deliberate approach. When those efforts failed to deter the approaching vessel, the security team on the Rappahannock fired rounds from a .50-calibre machine gun."
The US Navy said the incident was being investigated.
It is not clear where the crew of the boat are from.
The US Navy's 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain.
AP reported that UAE officials and police were crowded around the white-hulled boat, which after the incident was docked in a small Dubai port used by fishermen.
The boat appeared to be a civilian vessel about 30ft (9m) long and powered by three outboard motors, the report said.
Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world's oil exports pass, in a row over oil embargoes.
The US and the EU have lobbied countries around the world to block Iranian oil imports to put pressure on Tehran over its controversial nuclear programme.
Western nations fear Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, a claim that it vehemently denies.
There were a lot of tired people in the Tri-Cities on Saturday after an early morning electrical storm rattled homes and flashed bright lights through windows.
The system that led to a severe thunderstorm warning from the National Weather Service also cooled down the Mid-Columbia after a string of 100-plus degree days.
The light show and downpour didn't appear to cause any significant damage, with police and fire officials surprised at how few calls were received.
However, it might not be over, with the forecast calling for a slight chance of thunderstorms through the rest of the week as the temperatures heat up again.
Those storms continue to bring the threat of lightning sparking wildfires.
Today's thermometer should top out around 87 degrees before moving into breezy conditions for the evening, said Rob Brooks, a hydrometeorological technician with the National Weather Service in Pendleton.
The high Saturday was 91 at the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco with the overnight low expected to drop to 65, both fairly average temperatures for mid-July, Brooks told the Herald.
But the thunder and lightning that moved through the area earlier Saturday seemed anything but normal to the dozens of residents who took to social media to describe the experience.
Some referred to it on the Tri-City Herald's Facebook page as "the best storm ever" or the "most intense" they've experienced in the Northwest. People awakened by the loud booms reported staying up through the early morning hours because they were fascinated by Mother Nature's spectacular display, or simply realized that attempts at sleep were futile.
A severe weather alert issued at 2:37 a.m. said two storms were located six miles southwest of Kennewick and moving north at 30 mph. Within minutes, the storms moved over the Tri-Cities and seemed to hunker down for almost three hours, with cloud-to-cloud lightning that often was so bright it appeared to be daytime.
The National Weather Service's warning described it as "a dangerous storm," and told residents to prepare for damaging winds, destructive hail and deadly lightning that could strike the ground. People were instructed to seek shelter inside a strong building, but away from windows.
The weather service took two calls from the public reporting hail the size of a quarter in Kennewick. Public reports of wind speeds in Kennewick ranged from gusts of 35 to 40 mph to gusts up to 60 mph that drove the rain and hail sideways.
"I'm sure it's been a blast for people to watch the lightning," Brooks said.
The weather service had been expecting the storms to form for a couple of days because of instability with a low-pressure system and warm temperatures, Brooks said.
The Pasco airport on Saturday only recorded a trace of rain, while Kennewick showed 0.13 inch, a "decent" amount for the city, he said. Hermiston had reports of a quarter-inch and even a half-inch in parts.
Deputy Chief Mike Harris with Benton Fire District 1 said the rural Kennewick department did not receive a single call for a fire caused by a lightning strike.
"Out of the 320 square miles we protect we had 320 square miles of rain," Harris said. "... I think that might have quenched any fire that might have started from the lightning."
Hours before the system hit the Tri-Cities, the Walla Walla Symphony's Friday night performance of Midsummer Night Music was stopped for a moment because of heavy rain on the tin roof at the Power House Theatre. It was the conductor's choice to pause because he wanted the audience to be able to appreciate the music, symphony officials said.
The News Tribune
Iran warns it’s closely monitoring the “enemy’s” moves from the Caribbean Sea to the Persian Gulf. The statement comes after Washington is reported to have dispatched a fourth aircraft carrier and a fleet of underwater drones to Gulf waters.
Iran’s intelligence systems are tracking all the activities of the US forces and its allies from the Caribbean Sea to the Sea of Oman and the Persian Gulf, says Rear Admiral Javad Mashidi, the deputy commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy.
“By being vigilant about the plots of the enemies and maintaining a massive presence in the country’s maritime borders, the IRGC Navy counters any potential threat posed by the enemies and aggressors,” said Mashidi as quoted by Iran’s Press TV.
The US has already sent three aircraft carriers to the waterways near Iran, namely the USS Enterprise, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Abraham Lincoln. Now the USS John C. Stennis will be joining this group in August,recent reports show.
Besides these vessels, dozens of small unmanned Sea Fox submersibles are to be dispatched along the same route. The submarine-like drones can detect and destroy any mines that Tehran may plant on the sea bed if they decide to increase efforts to block the Strait of Hormuz. The US has pledged to ensure the Strait of Hormuz, a major traffic lane for Gulf oil, remains open. However, so far, Iran only seems to be stepping up its hawkish rhetoric.
“The knowledge of the US and belligerent countries about the capabilities of the [Iranian] armed forces, particularly of those of the IRGC Navy, is merely a small portion of their real capabilities,” Mashidi said on Saturday.
Tehran has repeatedly threatened to block the waterway in retaliation for an oil embargo and other sanctions which the US and EU has imposed on Iran over its controversial nuclear program. A symbolic bill calling to block the strait will be taken up by the country’s parliament this month.
Another Iranian official pointed out the decision to block Hormuz lies solely with the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He also warned the US forces of dire consequences if Iran’s security is threatened, reports Fars News Agency.
“The IRGC’s naval forces have had the ability since the [Iran-Iraq] war to completely control the Strait of Hormuz and not allow even a single drop of oil to pass through,” IRGC naval commander Ali Fadavi said on Saturday. Tehran will increase its military presence in international waters, he added.
The West, along with Israel, suspects Tehran of aiming to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies the allegations, saying the program services the country’s needs in energy and cancer treatment.
As well as being head of the army, he was vice-chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission and held top posts in the ruling Workers' Party.
In a short statement, the party said Mr Ri had been removed from his posts "because of illness".
The BBC's Seoul correspondent Lucy Williamson says there is widespread scepticism about that explanation.
The decision to relieve Mr Ri of his duties came at a meeting of the Workers' Party Central Committee politburo on Sunday, state-run news agency KCNA said.
The brief report made no mention of a successor.
In Seoul, a spokesman for the Unification Ministry told reporters that the move was "very unusual".
"It's quite a rare case that the North promptly and publicly announced early this morning the outcome of a meeting yesterday, on 15 July. We will keep monitoring closely," Kim Hyung-suk said.
Mr Ri was made army chief three years ago under Kim Jong-il, the current leader's father who died in December 2011 after ruling North Korea for almost two decades.
The army chief regularly appeared at state occasions beside Kim Jong-il.
He was also one of seven top officials to accompany the younger Kim as he followed the hearse containing his father's body at his state funeral.
Mr Ri was widely thought to be a figure in the inner circle of the new leader and instrumental in helping him cement his position.
His removal is now being scrutinised by analysts for signs of the direction in which Kim Jong-un, seen as young and inexperienced, will take the country.
The army and Workers' Party are the two primary institutions that bolstered the Kim family dynasty, Robert Kelly, a professor at the Pusan National University in South Korea told the BBC.
Several high-placed generals bolted Bashar Assad’s inner circle Sunday, July 17, including such key figures as two security services chiefs who were operations commanders of the Alawite Shabiha militia plus the former head of Syria’s chemical and biological administration who took six other generals with him. They all fled to Turkey and defected. A fourth senior general from another security service was assassinated in Aleppo. This is reported exclusively by DEBKAfile’s military sources.
The loss of the generals orchestrating the pro-Assad paramilitary Shabiha’s savage crackdown on the opposition has seriously weakened Assad’s protective circle of trusties and reduced his military and security options.
Also today, the Syrian ruler was given a “last warning” through intelligence channels in the West to leave the warheads and shells loaded with mustard gas, sarin and cyanide where they are. If he dared move them out of the northern and central locations where he deployed them last week, they would be destroyed from the air.
DEBKAfile names the defecting Shabiha commanders as: Gen. Mohamed Tatouh, Deputy chief of Syrian political intelligence, and Gen. Mohamed Kodissia, deputy chief of the “Palestinian” Intelligence agency (a misnomer: it has nothing to do with Palestinians).
The murdered general, Ali Khallouf, was ambushed by rebels in Aleppo.
Maj. Gen. Adnan Nawras Salou, a Sunnite, who headed the chemical warfare authority until 2008, will no doubt have important intelligence to offer the West about the Assad regime’s current activities and plans for his WMD.
DEBKAfile points to three singular features of the latest wave of defections:
1. They all managed to spirit their families out of Syria well before they absconded themselves, an operation that must have required weeks of careful and secret preparation. The failure of Assad’s many-tentacled, clandestine agencies to discover what was up and foil the walkouts, attests to serious lapses in their notorious efficiency.
2. All the defectors served in Damascus at the regime’s nerve center for suppressing the revolt.
3. They all made tracks for Beirut before making their way to Turkey. Neverthetheless, the extensive spy networks run by Iran and Hizballah in the Lebanese capital failed to pick up on the city’s use as a way station for Syrian defectors in flight to Turkey.
4. Despite their active roles in crushing the civil uprising in Syria, those generals clearly hoped to escape the consequences of their actions and becoming liable for prosecution. The Red Cross Committee in Geneva, the first international organization to call the violence in Syria a full-blown civil war, made it clear Sunday, July 15, that international humanitarian law applied henceforth throughout the country and provided a basis for war crimes prosecution, especially if civilians were attacked.
On Thursday the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) declared over 1,000 counties across 26 states to be natural disaster areas. This year has been the one of the worst years since the 1930s for drought in America. Drought, along with extreme heat, has prompted the USDA to declare these territories the largest natural disaster area in American history. The declaration gives nearly half the country accesses to federal aid, including farmers and ranchers who have been adversely impacted by the weather.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, about 56 percent of the country is experiencing drought conditions, which is the largest percentage recorded in the agency’s existence. Adding to the drought is the extreme heat, which according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been the hottest on record for the so far in 2012. These conditions are adversely impacting our nation’s farming and ranching activities, but what about outdoors activities?
The extreme weather has impacted hunters and anglers especially in southern states. Lakes and reservoirs are at all-time lows in many parts of the country. These low water levels and high heat have already caused fish die-offs and it has made spawning more difficult for many species of fish. Hunter’s prey is are also being adversely affected (dying off and reproducing less) by the drought and high temperatures. This means that there will likely be fewer animals during hunting season.
The global economic recovery is still at risk, and eurozone economies remain in a "precarious" situation, the International Monetary Fund has said.
A delayed or insufficient response from European leaders to the crisis would further derail the recovery, it said.
The IMF downgraded its forecast for global growth for 2013 to 3.9% from the 4.1% prediction it made in April.
One of the biggest downward revisions was to the UK, now expected to grow by 1.4% in 2013. In April it predicted 2%.
The forecast for growth in 2012 was also reduced for the UK, down to 0.2% from the 0.8% cited in April.
The IMF's prediction for world output this year - as measured by gross domestic product - was little changed at 3.5%.
In its updated World Economic Outlook, which is published twice each year, the Washington-based lender said: "Downside risks continue to loom large, importantly reflecting risks of delayed or insufficient policy action."'Precarious situation'
The euro area will remain in a "precarious" situation unless leaders take further action to avoid the sovereign debt crisis from escalating and prevent a market meltdown, the report said.
"The utmost priority is to resolve the crisis in the euro area," said the report.
The 17-member eurozone economy is expected to contract by 0.3% this year before rebounding by 0.7% next year.
The IMF, along with the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Union, has demanded austerity measures in the struggling periphery economies of Greece, Spain and Portugal in return for bailouts.
The crisis has led millions of people to lose their jobs and benefits. There were also concerns that runs on bank deposits would trigger a eurozone-wide bank run and banking crisis.
Europe must be committed towards forging a "complete" monetary integration by pursuing a banking and fiscal union, said the IMF.
Iran could prevent even "a single drop of oil" passing through the Strait of Hormuz if its security is threatened, a naval chief said on Saturday, as tensions simmer over Tehran's nuclear program.
Tehran will increase its military presence in international waters, said Ali Fadavi, naval commander in Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
"If they (the U.S.) do not obey international laws and the IRGC's warnings, it will have very bad consequences for them," Fadavi said, according to Iran's Fars News Agency.
"The IRGC's naval forces have had the ability since the (Iran-Iraq) war to completely control the Strait of Hormuz and not allow even a single drop of oil to pass through."
Fadavi added: "IRGC special naval forces are present on all of the Islamic Republic of Iran's ships in the Indian Ocean and to its east and west, to prevent any movement.
"This IRGC naval force presence in international waters will increase."
Iran's Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi said his office has drawn up plans to make newly tightened sanctions against the Islamic Republic ineffective.
His remarks, carried by ministry website shana.ir on Saturday, did not elaborate on the plans. Qasemi's comments come two weeks after an EU oil embargo went into effect against Iran for its refusal to halt its uranium enrichment program.
Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz shipping channel, through which 40 percent of the world's sea-borne oil exports passes, in retaliation for sanctions placed on its crude exports by Western powers.
The sanctions were imposed over Iran's nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at creating an atomic weapon. Iran says the program is for peaceful energy purposes.
The United States has beefed up its presence in the Gulf, adding a navy ship last week to help mine-clearing operations if Iran were to act on threats to block the strait. Tehran said last month it was building more warships, in part to guard Iranian cargo ships from pirates, and Iranian military leaders often assert Iran's strength in the region and dominance in the Strait of Hormuz.
Military analysts have cast doubt on Iran's willingness to block the slender waterway, given the massive U.S.-led retaliation it would likely incur.